Stories tagged Earth and Space Science

Apr
18
2007

Fast in space: NASA astronaut Suni Williams ran a marathon Monday on a treadmill in the Intenrational Space Station concurrently with Earth-bound runners doing the Boston Marathon. Due to the weightless conditions in space, she had to be bungee-corded to the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Fast in space: NASA astronaut Suni Williams ran a marathon Monday on a treadmill in the Intenrational Space Station concurrently with Earth-bound runners doing the Boston Marathon. Due to the weightless conditions in space, she had to be bungee-corded to the treadmill. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
In real time and space, NASA astronaut Suni Williams completed Monday’s Boston Marathon in about five seconds. That’s impossible, you say?

Actually, Williams ran the marathon while on a treadmill in the International Space Station. She started her 26-plus mile effort at the same time that runners in Boston began the Earth-based marathon. It actually took her 4 hours, 24 minutes to cover the marathon’s distance on the treadmill. She was running in an orbit 210 miles above the surface of the Earth.

But when you factor in that the space station is orbited Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, Williams’ body passed over the actual length of a marathon in just five seconds.

Running a marathon in space required some other special accommodations as well. Bungee cords were used to keep Williams connected to the treadmill because of the weightless conditions of space. And she followed the progress of the actual marathon going on in Boston with a laptop computer.

Two of her friends were running in the actual marathon on Earth, as well. Williams is an experienced marathoner and ran a three-hour-29-minute marathon in Houston last year.

Apr
03
2007

The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through November 30.

Two hurricanes: This satellite image, captured 8/30/05, shows Hurricane Iris in the central Atlantic Ocean, with Tropical Storm Karen to the southeast. (The original image, from which this is cropped, also showed Hurricane Humberto moving northeast across the Atlantic.)
Two hurricanes: This satellite image, captured 8/30/05, shows Hurricane Iris in the central Atlantic Ocean, with Tropical Storm Karen to the southeast. (The original image, from which this is cropped, also showed Hurricane Humberto moving northeast across the Atlantic.)

Check back often for the latest predictions, forecasts, and discussion.

Mar
20
2007

Eco Model Haus open meeting and Green Institute tour
Thursday, March 29th
Tour: 5:30-6:30; meeting to follow
The Green Institute, 2801 21st Ave S, Minneapolis

There are many green buildings built from the ground up, but there are not any options for showing what residents can do with their existing homes to live more sustainably. The Eco Model Haus will be an existing home that will be remodeled into a green model home. It will display ways that residents can make changes to their homes from very easy and affordable actions such as a display of fluorescent or LED lights and information on how they are more efficient and what they cost (i.e. Science Museum signage) to more expensive or technical actions such as solar panels. We are working towards finding a location off of the Greenway (bike trails) and/or Lightrail to make the connection to alternative transportation as well and easy to access. This will be a space for homeowners, apartment dwellers and students to tour with hands-on and interactive displays.

Rain barrel (top detail): Rain barrels like this one collect rain so you can use it to water your garden later. The screens keep children, pets, and mosquitos out, while letting water in. (Photo by chrisdigo)
Rain barrel (top detail): Rain barrels like this one collect rain so you can use it to water your garden later. The screens keep children, pets, and mosquitos out, while letting water in. (Photo by chrisdigo)

Other examples of what could be displayed in the Eco Model Haus include:

  • Permeable surface options
  • Compost bin displays with plexi glass showing the decomposition
  • Green rooftop with stairs to view it
  • Rain barrels and options for children to water a nearby garden with the rain barrel water
  • Hybrid (HOURCAR) parking spot
  • Rain garden and native plants
  • Recycling and composting set up inside the home
  • Non-toxic cleaning samples and station to make your own to take home with a recipe
  • The Sustainable Living Resource Center will offer a library, product sample displays, experts on hand, a meeting/workshop space and the Twin Cities Green Guide™'s office. The Eco Model Haus will offer a green model home to Minnesotans to tour, attend workshops, lectures, and do research.

    * For the next six months they will be offering open meetings to the public and professionals to offer opinions on what this space will look like and to assist in the planning and execution of the Eco Model Haus. They hope to obtain a space in 2007, begin planning and creating the space in 2008 and open to the public for tours in 2009 or 2010. And they anticipate a large portion of the project will be planned and installed by volunteers (community members and professionals in the field).

Mar
16
2007

Retiring too soon?: Proposed budget cuts will likely leave NASA without any replacement spacecraft until 2015 for the space shuttle fleet that is to be retired in 2010.
Retiring too soon?: Proposed budget cuts will likely leave NASA without any replacement spacecraft until 2015 for the space shuttle fleet that is to be retired in 2010.
The United States will be in a space transportation pinch in the coming years if current proposed budgets for NASA don’t get an increase.

The three current space shuttles are targeted for mothballing in 2010 and new revised budgets for the replacement crafts won’t have anything available for American astronauts to fly in by 2015 at the earliest. More budget delays could push things back even further.

What that means is that U.S. space programs, including getting people and equipment to the International Space Station, will depend on the help of foreign or commercial space programs. Russia, who used to be our fierce foe in the race to space, could suddenly become a key ally in U.S. space endeavors.

Some experts say the budget problems could knock the U.S. out of its leadership position in space efforts. What do you think? What government programs would you be willing to see reduced in order for the U.S. to continue to have a strong fleet of space craft? Or do you think it’s too expensive to keep heading out to space anyway? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Mar
10
2007

Green games: The impacts of global warming are having an impact in the sports world. Sports Illustrated has taken a closer look at where we are and where we may be going in regard to climate change and the games we play
Green games: The impacts of global warming are having an impact in the sports world. Sports Illustrated has taken a closer look at where we are and where we may be going in regard to climate change and the games we play
Have you seen the recent issue of Sports Illustrated? The magazine has a special report cover story on the impact of global warming on sports.

While the existence of global warming has been debated on this blog in countless stories, Sports Illustrated doesn’t even go there. It starts off with the basic assumption that global warming is happening and goes directly to the how it impacts the sports world. Without any help from Al Gore, it presents some pretty interesting perspectives on how the current climate crisis is impacting the games we play and watch.

I won’t give everything away from the magazine, but here were some interesting tidbits to chew on that might build your appetite to read the full package.

• Remember Willie Mays’ circus catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. He made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in New York’s Polo Grounds that’s been replayed countless times as one of the game’s all-time greatest defensive plays. The day of that game, the temperature in New York was 76 degrees. With one more degree of air temperature (and government statistics on weather show that our climate has picked up 1.17 degrees since 1954), the ball Mays was chasing after would have flown two inches farther and would have likely not been caught by Mays. Warmer air is less dense allowing balls to travel further. Could that be a contributing factor to the increased number of home runs we’re seeing in baseball? Does that warmer, thinner air help golfers drive the ball to the record lengths we’re seeing today?

• People in the international skiing community aren’t poo-pooing the impacts of global warming. A record eight World Cup ski races in Europe were canceled this year due to lack of snow and warm temperatures. Several other major races were salvaged by spending $100,000s to truck in snow and beef up the ski runs. Temperature increases in the Alps are going up three times faster than the global average. And worldwide, some ski resorts are wrapping their glaciers in huge sheets of tin foil over the summer months to keep the sun’s rays from getting to the ice and melting them faster.

• Florida sports teams might want to start considering becoming swim teams instead of baseball, football, basketball or hockey squads. A rise of sea levels by one meter, which some climatologists are projecting could happened by 2100, would submerge eight stadiums and arenas in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville that currently host big-time pro and college sporting events.

• Ash trees, which are the prime wood used to make major league bats, are now under increased stress due to the ash borer beetle. The bug thrives in warmer weather and has made a rapid sweep through the Midwest and eastern portions of the U.S. The situation is scary enough that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is collecting DNA samples of ash trees to be preserved should the ashes get wiped out by the beetles.

What do you think about global warming and the sports world? Share your thoughts here at Science Buzz.

Mar
08
2007

Cows: The UN estimates that cows and other livestock are responsible for 18% of the global warming effect. Save the planet, eat a cow?
Cows: The UN estimates that cows and other livestock are responsible for 18% of the global warming effect. Save the planet, eat a cow?
Last night, I was curled up on the sofa reading an old issue of The New Yorker (January 22, 2007, to be exact). The book review feature ("Vegetable Love: The History of Vegetarianism") was about Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times. And one section, in particular, made me sit up and read a little closer. I quote:

"These days, the environmental argument [for vegetarianism] os not about maximizing the number of people that the environment can sustain but about sustaining the environment. Does producing a pound of lentils involve burning less fossil fuel than producing a pound of hamburger meat, or more? How many square miles of forest are cleared to graze cattle? How much biodiversity is lost both in grazing livestock and in raising the corn and soybeans to fatten them? A recent report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization reckons that at least 18% of the global warming effect comes from livestock, more than is cause by all the world's transportation systems. It has been estimated that 40% of global grain output is used to feed animals rather than people, and that half of this grain would be sufficient to eliminate world hunger if--and it's not a small if--the political will could be found to insure equitable distribution.

Yet the energy-cost argument is formidably complicated and cannot by itself support refusing all forms of meat in favor of all forms of plant matter: shooting and eating the deer chewing up the tulips in your garden may turn out to be more environmentally virtuous than dining on tofu manufactured from Chinese soybeans, and walking to the local supermaket for a nice hanger cut steak cut from a grass-fed New Zealand steer may be kinder to the planet than getting into your Toyota Prius to drive five miles for some organic Zambian green beans."

(This issue continues to befuddle me. Is it better to buy all local produce when I can, regardless of organic status (which, I must admit, I don't really care so much about)? Or does the bulk production and transport of the run-of-the-mill produce at the big-box grocery cancel out some harmful environmental effects?)

The article continues:

"The number of vegetarians in developed countries is evidently on the increase, but the world's per capita consumption of meat rises relentlessly: in 1981, it was 62 pounds per year; in 2002, the figure stood at 87.5 pounds. In carnivorous America, in increased from 238.1 pounds to 275.1 pounds, and the practice is spreading in traditionally herbivorous Asia. Indians' meat consumption has rised from 8.4 to 11.5 pounds since 1981; in China, it has increased from 33.1 to an astonishing 115.5 pounds. This result has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with prosperity."

(275.1 pounds! Crazy! My family eats a lot of vegetarian meals, not on principle, but just because we like them. I wonder how we compare?)

The article ends with an awesome quote from Ben Franklin, who flirted with vegetarianism but didn't quite make it stick. He was 16, and on his first sea voyage from Boston, when his ship was becalmed off Block Island in the Narragansett Bay. He wrote:

"Our Peopl set about catching Cod, & haul'd up a great many. Hitherto I had stick to my Resolution of not eating animal Food; and on this Occasion, I consider'd . . . the taking every Fish as a kind of unprovok'd Murder, since none of them had or ever could do us any Injury that might justify the Slaughter. All this seem'd very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great Lover of Fish, & when this came hot out of the Frying Pan, it smeled admirably well. I balanc'd some time between Principle & Inclination: till I recollected, that when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their Stomachs: Then though I, if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you. So I din'd upon Cod very heartily and continu'd to eat with other People, returning only now & then occasionally to a vegetable Diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do."

Indeed! :)

Mar
03
2007

Diagram of a lunar eclipse: Illustration NASA
Diagram of a lunar eclipse: Illustration NASA

The Earth will pass between the Sun and the Moon today, casting its shadow over the Moon and creating a total lunar eclipse.

The Moon starts to enter the Earth's shadow at 3:18 pm Eastern Time (US). It is fully in shadow from 5:44 pm to 6:57 pm, and then slowly leaves the shadow until it is clear at 9:24 pm.

Eclipse times in other US time zones:

Time Zone (US) Partial eclipse begins Total eclipse begins Total eclipse ends Partial eclipse ends
Eastern 3:18 pm 5:44 pm 6:57 pm 9:24 pm
Central 2:18 pm 4:44 pm 5:57 pm 8:24 pm
Mountain 1:18 pm 3:44 pm 4:57 pm 7:24 pm
Western 12:18 pm 2:44 pm 3:57 pm 6:24 pm
.


Photo of the Moon during a total eclipse in 2003: Photo NASA

In St. Paul, the Moon will rise tonight at 5:59 pm -- just after the total eclipse phase has ended. You can watch the Moon slowly emerge from the Earth's shadow. (Ancient astronomers watching lunar eclipses noticed that the Earth's shadow was always round -- thus proving that the Earth is round, too.)

To find out when the moon rises and sets in your town today, go to this site.

Note: it is perfectly safe to watch a lunar eclipse with your naked eye. All you are seeing is sunlight bouncing off the Moon's surface. It is no more dangerous than staring at a Full Moon. However, you must never look directly at the Sun, as during a solar eclipse. You can seriously damage your eyes.

To learn more about lunar eclipses, check out Wikipedia or NASA,

The last total eclipse was three years ago; the next will be later this year, on August 28.

Feb
24
2007

New properties: Must planets have the elements needed to make water? New discoveries have astronomers asking that question.
New properties: Must planets have the elements needed to make water? New discoveries have astronomers asking that question.
Does a planet need to have the elements for water?

What makes a planet is under even more scrutiny these days.

Last year it was the demotion of Pluto from the rank of planet.

This past week astronomers from Harvard announced that they’ve discovered a pair of planets in a far-off gala y that have properties unlike any other planet we know of.

Both bodies, called exoplanets, are huge gaseous bodies like Jupiter. And what researchers have found is that they are missing water from their makeups.

Both planets revolve around suns that have hydrogen and oxygen, the building blocks of water. Planets usually have the same composition of the suns they orbit. The elements for water aren’t a must for a planet. In our solar system, both Mercury and Venus lack the ingredients for water. But with huge planets like these, hydrogen and oxygen have always been present.

What researchers have found are hot, windy conditions. Temperatures are gauged to be as high as 1,500 degrees F with winds gusting between 500 and 2000 miles per hour.

The closest of the new exoplanets is 360 trillion miles from Earth and is located in the constellation Vulpecula. The other planet is 900 trillion miles away in the constellation Pegasus. Researchers think that planet has an atmosphere made up of fine particles of silicate.
And it’s possible that elements for water are actually there but not visibile with our current technology. Scientists say it's possible the water is hiding beneath dust clouds or that all the airborne water molecules are the same temperature, making it impossible to see using an infrared spectrograph.

Or maybe it's just not there.

Jan
16
2007

It's cold this morning. Maybe the coldest morning of the season so far? Luckily, there's also a lot of sunshine, and almost no wind.

If it were windy, you'd hear the weather forecasters talking a lot not only about the air temperature (-6 degrees when I left the house), but also about the "wind chill." Wind chill is a way to describe how quickly heat is transferred from your body to the atmosphere when it's both cold and windy outside. As wind increases, more heat is drawn from your body, decreasing your skin temperature and eventually your internal body temperature. Wind chill makes it feel much colder than it actually is.

Last year, I overheard a woman in the Science Museum parking garage elevator talking about how she parks her car in a sheltered area to protect it from wind chill. She was worried that, if she left it in a more exposed area, it wouldn't start. I can't say anything about the state of her car battery, or condensation on her distributor, but I can say that wind chill has very little impact on cars or any other inanimate objects: wind will shorten the time it takes for an object to cool to the temperature of the surrounding air, but it won't get any colder than that no matter how much wind there is.

For humans and animals, though, wind chill affects how quickly hypothermia and frostbite can occur. Hypothermia is a condition in which core body temperature has fallen to the point where normal muscle and brain functions are interrupted. (Thor did a post about hypothermia a few weeks ago.) Frostnip/frostbite are conditions in which body tissues freeze. Knowing the wind chill helps us make decisions to avoid these and other cold weather dangers.

She's got the right idea: Bundle up! (Photo by Yann Richie)
She's got the right idea: Bundle up! (Photo by Yann Richie)

The best thing to do when there's a significant wind chill is to stay inside. But you can't stay at home on the sofa all winter. So what can you do? Dress right when you go outside. That means wearing several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. (Trapped air between the layers will insulate you and keep you warm.) Stay dry. (Remove layers if need be to avoid sweating and later being wet and cold.) Wear a tightly woven, water repellent, hooded top layer. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from the cold. Mittens, which allow your fingers to share warmth, are better than gloves. And your mom was right: wear a hat! Half your body heat can be lost from your head.

Jan
14
2007

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are plentifull.

Asteroid hit.: Artist: Don Davis
Asteroid hit.: Artist: Don Davis
If a person lives to be 80, her or his odds of being around when the next multi-megaton blast from an asteroid collision occurs (somewhere on the planet) are roughly 1 in 12.5. Space within Earth's orbit is crowded with Near Earth Objects. Here is a link to a video of the movement of hundreds of NEO's (400 days).

Some recent near misses

  • On March 18, 2004, Asteroid 2004 FH passed approximately 26,500 miles above the Earth's surface (one-tenth of the distance to the Moon). Astronomers had detected it just three days before.
  • Another near earth object designated 2004 AS1 created concern on Jan 13, 2004. Initial measurements indicated that it would hit Earth within 27 hours. "Astronomers come within minutes of alerting the world to a possible asteroid strike." Wired News
  • Near Earth Asteroid 2004 MN4, briefly held a Torino Scale index of 4 (a record high) before being declared safe.


Near miss: Asteroid 2004 FH's flyby (NASA/JPL)

More Near Earth Object links

NASA impact risk assessment FAQ.
Armagh Observatory information.
NASA NEO basics. page
NASA images.